Need to build on momentum from AFC Champions League: Mumbai City FC's Des Buckingham ahead of Dubai pre-season tour

A fresh, renewed longer football season is a beneficial factor for clubs, coaches, and players alike. In what started as a three-month season, the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) has now grown into a top tier league with addition of new teams, quality international players, and promising local recruits.

The upcoming 2022-23 football season would roughly be an affair of nine months, commencing with the Durand Cup in August, the Hero ISL in November, and concluding with the Super Cup. This longer season now falls in accordance with the European league standards.

“I think a longer season is great for the league. That’s what we want, the players want and this is great from the development point of view,” stated Des Buckingham, head coach of Mumbai City FC to Sportstar.

Buckingham felt that a longer season would help keep the players afresh and prepared owing to a shorter duration of period during the off-season.

“In terms of offseason, the players have been given a schedule by our strength and conditioning coach [Danny Deigan] ahead of the season, to make sure that they are as prepared as they can be coming in here and that we don’t have to start from the beginning,” said the 37-year-old.

Following a coup of the Hero ISL League Winners’ Shield and the Hero ISL title, Mumbai City FC became the first-ever team to win both the silverware in a single season. Afterwards, the Englishman took over the reins from then head coach Sergio Lobera with a huge title to defend.

Things didn’t go as planned for Buckingham as the Islanders failed to make it to the top four, meaning they couldn’t qualify for the semi-finals. After a rather underwhelming Hero ISL season for Buckingham’s men, the focus turned towards the AFC Champions League where the Islanders put up a strong display but fell short of minute margins to advance onto the next stage.

The club’s performances in the intra-continental tournament didn’t go unnoticed as it received mammoth support from all over the nation for becoming the first Indian club to register two wins in the AFC Champions League, beating Iraqi side Air Force Club (Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya) twice.

“We will be looking to carry the momentum from the Champions League. For me, it is about continuing from there. We’ve got a good base. We’ve got ten of the starting eleven that finished that Champions League game or started at Champions League game and we’ve retained a large core of the group,” he added.

“One additional stuff we will look at is what worked last year and what we need to build on.”

Over the years, Mumbai City FC is also known for the growth of its young talent, and with Buckingham under the helm, the club has seen the likes of Lalengmawia Ralte (Apuia), Vikram Partap Singh, and Mehtab Singh among others to be bankable and perform on the big stage when called on to action.

“The beauty of having them (young players) and working with them day in day out is you can see and track their development and as long as you’re clear on what you want to achieve and they’re very clear and how they work towards achieving that,” he said.

Cashing in on the big names like Greg Stewart, Jorge Diaz, and Alberto Noguera in the transfer market, the Islanders want to make sure they begin their pre-season on a strong foot. They will start their pre-season training in Dubai before the start of the Durand Cup in August.

“The most important thing is we get our players in Dubai and then try and get them match-fit so that when we travel to the Durand Cup, we’ll be taking our full first team and, we are looking forward to playing in front of the fans for the first time in a while,” he concluded.

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